The last time my daughter was on antibiotics for an ear infection, I decided I was going to do what I had been recommending to my clients: put a reminder twice a day in my Blackberry! It worked. I didn’t forget any of the doses and she got every last drop.
Antimicrobial resistance has become somewhat of the norm in human medicine and unfortunately it has also become the norm in veterinary medicine.
From a public health standpoint, this is extremely serious. Who is responsible for what? Are we giving resistant bacteria to our dogs and cats or are they giving them to us? Or are we becoming contaminated by resistant bacteria from handling or consuming undercooked meat? The reality is we are still not really sure what or who to point the finger at. It is most likely a combination of many factors. The importance is that we know these BAD bacteria are around and we need to work together with pet owners, health officials and MD’s and the food animal sector to try and solve this growing problem.
I cannot tell you how many times I have clients come back to see me with their dog or cat for some kind of infection and when I say “Let’s do a culture or swab and then we will know which antibiotic we do or do not need to use.” They respond by saying, “Well maybe we can simply use the antibiotics we have left over from the last infection”. Oh my, where should I begin?
- Why are there any pills left?
- Why do we assume this antibiotic would work on this infection (even if it ‘looks’ like the same infection- for instance another ear infection)?
- Where did I go wrong? I obviously did not communicate effectively with my client the importance of their completion of the ENTIRE course of treatment and ensuring the infection was in fact gone before ending the treatment?
I know I am not alone; this is a HUGE issue in human medicine. We have all heard about MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) infections. These are fairly common and serious infections in people. Yes, animals can have MRSA, but they are much more likely to have MRSP (a slightly different type of Staphylococcus called S. pseudointermedius). These bacteria are much less likely to move from animals to people, unlike the MRSA infections, but they are a leading cause of skin infections in our pets.
Because of these highly resistant bacteria we see on and in our pets, your veterinarian is far more likely to ask you to do a bacterial culture than they were, 15 years ago.
We need to be judicious in our use of these important drugs to ensure we are not adding to this global crisis. These bacterial cultures allow us to know exactly what bacteria we need to treat and if there is any resistance to be concerned about. We need to save the use of certain antimicrobials for the cases that really need them.
So the next time your vet asks you to do a swab, run a culture, come back for a recheck before the end of treatment, and ensure you give the medications as prescribed, you will understand why. And for goodness sake, put those reminders into your smartphone! It works.